Humble man planted Sonoma County's soccer roots
To some, for far too many under the age of 40, Joe Belluzzo is just a name, a name from another time, a name that doesn?t ring a bell, doesn?t even create an echo. Someone I heard who did a lot for soccer, that?s the lengthy explanation, that?s the end of the description, as if someone?s life could be so neatly capsulated, especially someone like Belluzzo?s.
Consider this column, therefore, an attempt to illuminate that which needs more light.
?When I grew up,? said Andrew Ziemer, 42, who once coached and played for Belluzzo, ?it was an honor to play soccer in Sonoma County. Now it?s considered a right.?
It is now an assumption, a solid given, that there will be enough fields, uniforms, players, coaches, teams in the area. For the teenager playing soccer today in Sonoma County to imagine otherwise, would be like today?s major-league baseball player imagining wearing woolen uniforms. In stretching his mind to think a 90-year old man spawned 6,000 soccer-playing kids in Sonoma County ? that was Joe?s age when he died Nov. 11 ? a teenager might blow a couple thousand brain cells.
The Soccer Father made this happen but I can?t use words like ?determination? and ?love? and ?passion.? Those three words have been so abused and overused in sports, they have lost nearly all their meaning. Consider, rather, the following example.
In 1965, Santa Rosa JC graciously allowed Belluzzo and his initial band of 33 players to use a field on its property.
There was an oak tree in the middle of the field.
That?s how disrespected soccer once was in this county.
?We played around the tree,? Joe told me two years ago.
The squeaky wheel, we have been told, gets the most grease and the evidence is everywhere in sports, that the only way to get someone?s attention anymore is to be flamboyant of mouth or body. The screamers on ESPN wage verbal war with the screaming Terrell Owens, who can appreciate the style of super baseball agent, the screaming Scott Boras, who won?t defer but will acknowledge the greatness of a former Warrior, the screaming Stephen Jackson.
Joe Belluzzo was the whisper who got everyone?s attention.
?I never remember my father ever giving a speech,? said Belluzzo?s son, Rick.
Joe never stood on stage, grabbed a microphone or entered a room to own it. Joe never held court, never pointed fingers, never dipped low in frustration to soil his message.
?There was a reverence you felt when you were with Joe,? Ziemer said. ?You felt honored to be around him. You wanted him to feel proud of you.?
Why? Because it was never about Belluzzo, and that may be the most difficult concept to grasp. He didn?t do it to get rich, famous or a free Grand Slam breakfast at Denny?s. No hidden agenda. No deal was cut. He was just honest and up-front ? and oh, how bizarre that reads today, when the most innocent decisions still create suspicion. Somebody, heck, everybody, has to be working an angle.
?My dad felt soccer was part of life,? Rick Belluzzo said. ?It wasn?t just a sport. It was a way for kids to play together, a way for kids to learn how to share and get along. It was a way for nations to come together and, whatever their differences, they could put them aside for two-three hours. It was a way for people to learn how to handle life, to deal with adversity. He connected all the dots.?